Reviews You Can Rely On

The 6 Best Avalanche Airbags of 2022

We put avalanche airbag packs to the test from Black Diamond, BCA, Mammut, and more to find the best models
Best Avalanche Airbag of 2022
There are a variety of airbag technologies and designs, with each offering unique advantages. Shown here, airbag testing on Thompson Pass, Alaska.
Credit: Ian Nicholson
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday October 20, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

If you're looking for an avalanche airbag pack, you've come to the right place. After researching over 40 models, we tested the top 8 over the past few backcountry seasons. We purchased a variety of packs for our side-by-side tests to help you find ones for different uses, whether that's a multi-day hut-to-hut tour or a bucket-list heli-skiing trip to the Chugach. This is not a budget outdoor gear item, and it could very well save your life one day, so we paid acute attention to all of the essential features, like the airbag deployment systems and the ease of use in the backcountry. We have a lot of recommendations for you below, whether you need an all-around performer, are looking for something for quick side-country missions, or just need something that costs less than a grand so that you can actually afford to take that dream trip.

Need to upgrade your kit? We've tested the best backcountry skis and splitboards, as well as the climbing skins that go with them. We've also put other safety gear through head-to-head tests to choose our favorite avalanche beacons and ski helmets.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on October 20, 2022, with six new products, including the award-winning Osprey Soelden Pro 32, Black Diamond JetForce UL, and the women's Mammut Pro X Removable 3.0 35L.

Top 8 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 8
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award 
Price $1,200 List
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$1,200 List
$1,200 at REI
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Compare at 2 sellers
$770 List$637.46 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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79
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Pros Best airbag system on the market, utilitarian design, huge avy tools pocket, spacious main compartment, ability to carry skis diagonally and A-Frame, comfortable, durable, airbag zipper pops open way less than other modelsEasy to manage, huge snow safety tools pocket, lightweight, easy to travel with, multiple deployments if you carry extra AA batteries, trigger can be worn at either shoulderGreat overall pack design, affordable, good snow safety gear pocket, plethora of organizational pockets, canister doesn't take up extra space in the main compartmentBest-fitting pack for smaller users, awesome pack design, super comfortable, big snow safety tools pocket, great goggle pocket, well-executed back panel accessTons of useful features, huge snow safety gear pocket, affordable, rides well for a large pack, half back-panel access, lots of pockets
Cons Only one frame size, compression straps must be unbuckled to unzip the pack all the way, one-way zipper, no goggle pocket, "stash pocket" isn't user-friendly, mediocre diagonal ski carryWide shoulder straps, frame lengths geared toward taller folks, few organizational optionsOne size, average weightMediocre helmet sling, no internal zippered pocket for keys, must access back panel to get to most of the pack, hard to maximize volume, waist buckle difficult to threadHeavy, not great for smaller users
Bottom Line This comfortable pack features a functional design and our favorite airbag systemThis tour-friendly pack features supercapacitors to power an electric fan, making it lighter than most battery-powered optionsA great pack design with a basic but functional and reliable airbag, all at a respectable weight and a good priceThis pack is designed for those with a short torso, narrow shoulders, or those under 5'4", and you'll be pleased with its well-thought-out designA well-designed larger volume airbag pack that excels for patrollers, backcountry pros, or extended missions
Rating Categories Osprey Soelden Pro 32 Black Diamond JetFo... Backcountry Access... Mammut Pro X Remova... Backcountry Access...
Backcountry Utility (22%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
9.5
Airbag System (20%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Weight (18%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
Features (15%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
10.0
Downhill Performance (13%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort (12%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
Specs Osprey Soelden Pro 32 Black Diamond JetFo... Backcountry Access... Mammut Pro X Remova... Backcountry Access...
Volume (liters) 32L 26L 32L 35L, 33L with system 42L
Weight with Cartridge (pounds) 6.5 lbs 5.7 lbs 6.4 lbs 6.5 lbs 7.1 lbs
Airbag unit or packs can be purchased separately/independently No No Yes Yes Yes
Cartridge type Electric fan Electric fan Compressed Air Compressed Air Compressed Air
Approximate cost to Refill Not Applicable Not Applicable $5-20 $5-20 $5-20
Volume of Bag(s) 150L 150L 150L 150L 150L
Frame sizes One size SM/ML One size One size One size
Can you fly with it? Yes, no cartridge Yes, no cartridge Yes, domestically in the US when cartridge is empty; internationally when full Yes, domestically in the US when cartridge is empty; internationally when full Yes, domestically in the US when cartridge is empty; internationally when full
Helmet carrier Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Carry Snowboard Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Carry skis A-frame or Diagonal A-Frame and Diagonal Diagonal A-Frame and Diagonal A-Frame and Diagonal A-Frame and Diagonal


Best Overall Airbag Pack


Osprey Soelden Pro 32


85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Backcountry Utility 8.0
  • Airbag System 9.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Downhill Performance 9.0
  • Comfort 9.0
Weight: 6.5 lbs | Airbag System: Supercapacitor-powered electric fan
REASONS TO BUY
Our favorite airbag system
Functional pack design
Great snow safety pocket
Comfortable
Versatile
Easy to travel with
Airbag system can charge with two AA batteries
REASONS TO AVOID
One-way zipper on main compartment
Compression straps must be unbuckled to unzip pack very far
Expensive

The Osprey Soelden Pro 32 combines our favorite overall airbag system in the Alpride E1 with one of our favorite pack designs. It is super comfortable and solid on the way up and the way down. We loved all but a few very small aspects of its pack design and found it to be one of the more versatile models out there. The avy tools pocket is deep enough for larger shovels and probes, and the Alpride system is rechargeable with a USB wall plug, or it can even charge on two AA batteries in the field. We think the Alpride E1 is currently the best and most advanced system on the market, and this pack is among the most comfortable and best performing on the down. It's a respectable weight and we loved nearly everything about this pack.

Our gripes were minor, but we found the stash pocket wasn't super user-friendly. The compression straps need to be unclipped to unzip the main compartment very far. We also didn't like that the zipper is one-way on the main compartment. Overall, though, we love this pack and found it to be the gold standard.

Read more: Osprey Soelden Pro 32 review

avalanche airbag - best overall airbag pack
The Soelden Pro is comfortable with the right amount of support, has a great pack design, and features our favorite airbag system.
Credit: Brian Muller

Best Bang for the Buck


Backcountry Access Float 32 2.0


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Backcountry Utility 9.0
  • Airbag System 7.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Downhill Performance 8.0
  • Comfort 8.0
Weight: 7.1 lbs | Airbag System: Cartridge (compressed air)
REASONS TO BUY
Affordable
Well-designed pack
Large volume
REASONS TO AVOID
One size often doesn't fit shorter people

The Backcountry Access Float 32 2.0 boasts a functional design and reasonable weight for its volume, alongside a respectable price tag. This pack will work for most day tours or light-duty hut trips. It has all the right features for a touring pack, like zippered waistbelt pockets, a mesh helmet holder (that can be offset when carrying diagonally), a low profile and tram-friendly ice axe lashing system, and a huge, easy-to-access snow safety pocket.

Our main issue with this pack was the fit — it comes in one size only, which limits the range of users. Those who have narrow shoulders may find it too broad, and if you're shorter than 5'6", it probably won't fit you so well. Otherwise, if you're looking for a deal, this one is hard to beat.

Read more: Backcountry Access Float 32 2.0 review

avalanche airbag - best bang for the buck
The Float 32 offers a top-tier pack design and respectable weight for a great price.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Best for Touring


Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26L


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Backcountry Utility 8.0
  • Airbag System 9.0
  • Weight 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Downhill Performance 8.0
  • Comfort 8.0
Weight: 5.75 lbs | Airbag System: Supercapacitor-powered electric fan
REASONS TO BUY
Best airbag system out there
Sleek but functional pack design
Lightweight
Performs well on the descent
Easy to travel with
System can charge off a pair of AA batteries
REASONS TO AVOID
Volume is small for big days
Expensive

If we could only own one model for ski touring where weight and a specific feature set are a priority, then the Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26L would be it. This model uses the Alpride E1 supercapacitor-powered system. The supercapacitor can deliver a large amount of energy in a relatively short period of time, and is only minimally affected by temperature. This system saves around 2 lbs over a lithium-ion battery. This pack design is a favorite, and it's one of the lower-weight models that still has the majority of features that most backcountry travelers are seeking.

With that said, its 26L design is big enough for most day tours, but folks who have a hard time packing light may find themselves annoyed trying to cram all their stuff back in this pack at every break. But if you can keep your backcountry kit tight and make this smaller volume work, the Tour 26 will reward you with user-friendly features, light weight, and the best airbag system on the market.

Read more: JetForce Tour 26L review

avalanche airbag - best for touring
The JetForce Tour 26L incorporates Alpride's supercapacitor-powered fan design, shaving weight. This pack's design was among our overall favorites.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Best for Lightweight Touring


Black Diamond JetForce UL


75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Backcountry Utility 6.0
  • Airbag System 8.0
  • Weight 10.0
  • Features 6.0
  • Downhill Performance 8.0
  • Comfort 7.0
Weight: 4.4 lbs | Airbag System: Cartridge (compressed air)
REASONS TO BUY
Lightest in the volume range
Great downhill performance
Excellent ski carry system
Easy to pack
Bomber suspension
REASONS TO AVOID
Not many features
No helmet sling
No externally accessed avy gear pocket
Internal snow safety gear sleeve only fits smaller shovels

The Black Diamond JetForce UL is impressively light. At 4 lbs 6 oz, this pack is significantly lighter (1-3 lbs) than nearly all other airbags on the market at a similar volume. It features Alpride's 2.0 airbag system, which is unquestionably the lightest on the market. It's a stripped-down pack that is light on features, but we appreciate the helmet carry system and the small mesh internal pocket included for organization.

The JetForce UL makes some sacrifices to functionality and comfort to achieve its low weight. Its waist belt is basically a thin piece of nylon, and there is no real back support aside from the bit of rigidity created by the airbag system. The internal avalanche tool sleeve is difficult to access when the pack is full — which it will be, due to the small volume. The pack feels quite small for the 26L of claimed volume, and is just barely big enough for most day tours. However, after extensive testing, we didn't find most of these sacrifices to be deal-breakers. For folks who hesitate to bring an airbag due to weight, or anyone seeking the lightest still-functional airbag pack, this is it.

Read more: Black Diamond Jetforce UL review

avalanche airbag - best for lightweight touring
This pack's primary advantage is its low weight.
Credit: Dallas Glass

Best for Short Torsos


Mammut Pro X Removable 3.0 35L - Women's


81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Backcountry Utility 9.0
  • Airbag System 7.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Downhill Performance 8.0
  • Comfort 9.0
Weight: 6.5 lbs | Airbag System: Cartridge (compressed air)
REASONS TO BUY
Best pack geared for short-torsoed users
Very comfortable
Fantastic pack design
Lots of backcountry-friendly features
Versatile
Great downhill performance
Modular airbag system
REASONS TO AVOID
Not as easy to travel with as battery-powered options
Hard to maximize volume
Smaller snow safety gear pocket

There are not a lot of airbag packs on the market that fit people shorter than 5'6" well, and there are even fewer options for folks 5'4" and under. If this is you, look no further than the women's-specific Mammut Pro X Removable 3.0 35L - Women's. This model was ultra-comfortable with pleasant padding and ergonomically designed shoulder straps, and it also had a great, user-friendly pack design. This combination of top-tier comfort for shorter users, along with one of the most functional designs, earned this pack an award.

While we loved nearly everything about this pack, there were a few things that could be improved upon; most notably, the model's hybrid back panel/clamshell design. The Pro X Women's back-panel access is easy to open and close, but like all back-panel access designs, it is hard to maximize volume or pack very full. Mammut saw this and added a semi-clamshell style opening to the pack, which worked fairly well for packing purposes, but it was still harder to access items deeper in the pack without going in through the back panel.

Read more: Mammut Pro X Removable 3.0 35L - Women's review

avalanche airbag - best for short torsos
The Pro X is supportive without being overly stiff and performed fantastically on the descent.
Credit: Mammut

Best for Multi-Day and Hut-to-Hut Trips


Backcountry Access Float 42 2.0


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Backcountry Utility 9.5
  • Airbag System 7.0
  • Weight 6.0
  • Features 10.0
  • Downhill Performance 7.0
  • Comfort 8.0
Weight: 7.1 lbs | Airbag System: Cartridge (compressed air)
REASONS TO BUY
Offset clamshell design helps maximize space
Carries weight well
Loaded with backcountry-friendly features
Tons of pockets
Respectable weight for the volume
REASONS TO AVOID
Easy back-panel access
Reasonable price
Mediocre performance on the downhill
Doesn't fit shorter users (under 5'7")

The BCA Float 42 2.0 is the best airbag for multi-day tours or other adventures where you just plain need a lot of stuff. This makes it perfect for ski patrollers, guides, or hut-to-hut adventures. What sets this pack apart from other larger models is it doesn't necessarily feel huge, so we didn't mind using it on more casual day trips. It's also stacked full of sweet features and tons of pockets for organization.

All this comes at a cost in weight. This is one of the heaviest packs we tested. However, it is lighter than some similar volume packs on the market. It also feels less bulbous and skis better on the descent than most other 35+ liter airbags we tested. Overall, this model has a great pack design and it's the model we reach for when heading out for overnight tours.

Read more: Backcountry Access Float 42 2.0 review

avalanche airbag - ski patrollers and avalanche professionals will love this model&#039;s...
Ski patrollers and avalanche professionals will love this model's gigantic snow safety pocket.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
85
Osprey Soelden Pro 32
osprey soelden pro 32 avalanche airbag review
$1,200
Editors' Choice Award
84
Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26L
black diamond jetforce tour 26l avalanche airbag review
$1,200
Top Pick Award
82
Backcountry Access Float 32 2.0
backcountry access float 32 2.0 avalanche airbag review
$600
Best Buy Award
81
Mammut Pro X Removable 3.0 35L - Women's
mammut pro x removable 3.0 35l for women avalanche airbag review
$770
Top Pick Award
79
Backcountry Access Float 42 2.0
backcountry access float 42 2.0 avalanche airbag review
$750
Top Pick Award
75
Black Diamond JetForce UL
black diamond jetforce ul avalanche airbag review
$900
Top Pick Award
75
Black Diamond JetForce Pro 35L
black diamond jetforce pro 35l avalanche airbag review
$1,500
69
Mammut Ultralight Removable 3.0
mammut ultralight removable 3.0 avalanche airbag review
$500

avalanche airbag - we tested these packs head-to-head by taking them out in groups and...
We tested these packs head-to-head by taking them out in groups and switching throughout the day to gather multiple opinions.
Credit: Joshua Cole

A Note About Backcountry Safety
If you are traveling in avalanche terrain, you unquestionably must still carry an avalanche beacon. Avalanche airbags are NOT A SUBSTITUTE for a beacon. There are too many stories of people being buried or dying with an airbag pack on, either due to the size of the avalanche, the terrain, or failure to deploy due to human or mechanical error (which is a surprising 21 percent of the time).

Why You Should Trust Us


Over the last decade, we have tested over two dozen individual airbag packs. This review compares 8 of the market's top avalanche airbags, which we put through head-to-head tests over three seasons. We compared them in real-world testing in the Chugach, the French and Swiss Alps, the Wasatch, Cascades, Canadian Coast Range, and the Sierras. We tested them on both day and multi-day trips, guiding a huge range of terrain—from mellow bowls to technical descents—and while working for the Northwest Avalanche Center.

We compared everything from how each pack carried to how easy it was to attach a ski helmet. We researched the most up-to-date statistics and current debates on airbag packs and reported them here in a digestible manner. We identified the best overall airbag pack as well as the best airbag pack for heli and cat skiing, multi-day tours, the best product for shorter users, and the best overall value.

Our testing of airbag packs is divided across six rating metrics:
  • Backcountry Utility (22% of overall score weighting)
  • Airbag System (20% weighting)
  • Weight (18% weighting)
  • Features (15% weighting)
  • Downhill Performance (13% weighting)
  • Comfort (12% weighting)

This review is brought to you by Ian Nicholson, a professional snow forecaster, IMFGA ski guide, and AIRE course instructor. Not only has he taught over 70 different classes on snow science, but he is an outdoorsman passionate about outdoor gear. He uses avalanche airbags every day in his work whenever adventuring out in the field. In addition to his expertise, a wide range of AMGA guides, patrollers, and safety course instructors contribute their knowledge and expertise to this in-depth review.

avalanche airbag - don&#039;t forget to tour with your trigger out and your leg strap on...
Don't forget to tour with your trigger out and your leg strap on. Most importantly, don't let wearing an airbag pack push you into terrain you otherwise wouldn't travel in. Photo: Ian Nicholson out on an observation day for the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC).
Credit: Graham McDowell

Analysis and Test Results


We test the best of the best avalanche airbags on the market. This article focuses on the nuances and differences between each pack. To rate each product, we test them based on their backcountry utility, type of airbag system, weight, features, downhill performance, and comfort. Our testing process is thorough, comparative, and unbiased to provide excellent recommendations to keep you safe and protected in the backcountry.


Value


When it comes to avalanche airbag packs, we generally have to make some tradeoffs based on our intended uses. For example, if we'll be doing big hut-to-hut trips, we'll need a larger volume pack that probably won't perform as well on the downhill. When trying to select something more affordable in this category, the biggest decision you'll have to make is whether you want a compressed air/canister system or an electric fan deployment, as this has a huge impact on price. The electric fan models are all hundreds of dollars more than even the most expensive compressed air options.

All of the Backcountry Access models offer great value, and we particularly liked the Float 32 for its price-to-performance ratio. If you are frequently flying with your airbag pack, the hassle of emptying and refilling your canisters might make a more expensive option worth the extra money.

It is worth noting that there is a movement to change the name of avalanche airbag packs to avalanche balloon bags or balloon packs. This movement comes from the misconception that can occur when people think of an airbag pack as being like the airbag in your car. Airbag packs don't guarantee safety. While we are all for this movement, in reality, 99 percent of people still call them airbag packs, and as a result, that's what we continue to call them in this review.

Backcountry Utility


While avalanche airbag packs are important life-saving tools, they also need to serve as a functional pack for traveling in the backcountry. There are a few features that all backcountry ski and snowboard packs should have. The first is an internal snow safety gear pocket and to carry all your avy tools. Gone are the days of yesteryear when people carried their shovel and probe on the outside of their pack. Why? Because an avalanche is more violent than any wave in the ocean you have ever been caught in, so it is very unlikely that your shovel or probe will stay attached if they're on the outside during an avalanche.


We also appreciate if a pack's safety gear pocket is big enough to use as a wet pocket — a place to stash your skins or anything else wet — so that you can keep them apart from your dry contents in the main compartment.

avalanche airbag - debris from a previous avalanche pours down in front of eric dalzell...
Debris from a previous avalanche pours down in front of Eric Dalzell and Ryan O'Connell on our way up the Odyssey.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

We gave higher scores to packs whose snow safety gear pockets were relatively easy to pack and easily accessible even when the pack is full. Scoring here was also based on the functionality of the ski carry system. Lastly, we compared how easily each model was to pack and search through when full. Packs received higher scores if they provided easy access to our gear and if we could cram them full and completely utilize the space.

avalanche airbag - for backcountry utility, we took into account, pockets, various...
For Backcountry Utility, we took into account, pockets, various features, the ski carrying system, and access of snow safety tools. Shown here is the Osprey Soelden Pro 32.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The Osprey Soelden Pro 32, BCA Float 32 and Float 42, Mammut Pro X 35, and Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26 all have large gear pockets that could hold almost any size shovel, 300 cm probe, and skins.

Carrying Skis or a Snowboard on Your Airbag Pack

The ability to carry skis or a snowboard is an essential element of these packs. When traveling in or around avalanche terrain where airbag deployment is a possibility, it's better to carry your skis or splitboard diagonally or flat against the back of the pack rather than A-framed on the sides. This is so the skis or board won't interfere with airbag deployment.

avalanche airbag - ryan o&#039;connell and eric dalzell booting up tone&#039;s temple while...
Ryan O'Connell and Eric Dalzell booting up Tone's Temple while comparing airbag packs' ski-carrying abilities.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

All the packs we tested offer the ability to carry skis diagonally. For folks who find themselves hiking longer distances at lower elevations where a diagonal carry is less comfortable, the BCA Float 42 2.0, BCA Float 32 2.0, and Mammut Pro X Removable 3.0 35L - Women's offer an A-frame carry system in addition to the diagonal carry.

Most splitboarders will use these same systems with the board still "split". For non-splitboard snowboarders, the Mammut and BCA Float have the ability to hold the board vertically. For snowmobile access boarding, our testers liked the aftermarket diagonal across-the-back carrying system compatible with all BCA packs.

avalanche airbag - ian nicholson gets ready to transition after a short booter while...
Ian Nicholson gets ready to transition after a short booter while using the ski-carry system on a Mammut pack.
Credit: Dallas Glass

Airbag Systems


While all avalanche airbag packs make it more likely their wearer will end up on the surface, understanding which individual system and model might best suit your specific needs is important. It's not simply who has the best, the biggest, or the most bags. Below, we break down the advantages and disadvantages of each system tested in this review.


Airbag Shapes, Sizes, and Designs


We explain differences in each airbag's shape, where and how it's deployed, the trigger mechanism used, if the system is modular, what gas is inside the canister or whether it is electrically powered, and other model-specific features.

avalanche airbag - each airbag system is different. some have different shapes and...
Each airbag system is different. Some have different shapes and different trigger mechanisms, some are electrically powered and some use compressed gas or air.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Alpride E1
avalanche airbag - alpride&#039;s battery-powered supercapacitor design is significantly...
Alpride's battery-powered supercapacitor design is significantly lighter than other electric models using large lithium-ion batteries.
Credit: Alpride
Alpride is one of the newer players to the airbag game, and we expect them to take an even bigger market share over the next couple of years. Alpride is a Swiss company that licenses their design to other manufacturers and is used in the Osprey Soelden Pro 32 and Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26. These were short-term exclusive licenses have now expired, and other companies are starting to utilize the Alpride E1 system, including BCA (though we have not tested any of the Alpride-equipped BCA packs yet).

The Alpride E1 system is groundbreaking because it's the first airbag system to utilize a supercapacitor to power a fan instead of an ultra-powerful lithium-ion battery or some form of compressed gas. This offers a huge weight savings over lithium-ion batteries. For a lithium-ion to fill a 150L balloon in 3-5 seconds (potentially in cold temperatures) requires a super powerful — not to mention expensive and heavy — battery.

avalanche airbag - rich weight,  scott orr, and tracey bernstein enjoy a good laugh at...
Rich Weight, Scott Orr, and Tracey Bernstein enjoy a good laugh at being able to fire off the Alpride E1 anytime (seen here in an Osprey Soelden Pro 32) as it only requires 40 minutes and a pair of double AA batteries to recharge.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

This is where the supercapacitor really shines. Supercapacitors are far better than a traditional battery at providing a lot of power in a very short period of time, and they are only minimally affected by the cold, making them ideal for this application. Since the Alpride doesn't require as much power, you can recharge your airbag in around 20 minutes when plugged into a normal wall outlet via USB or in just 40 minutes when plugged into an auxiliary battery or charging off a pair of AA batteries.

avalanche airbag - the alpride e1 models charge via a wall plug and a micro usb, but...
The Alpride E1 models charge via a wall plug and a micro USB, but they can also be charged in about 40 minutes with two AA batteries.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

These models use red, yellow, and green LED indicator lights to show the charge level. When you power on the system, it emits an audible sound while running a self-check on the function of 15 parameters and components to see if everything is working properly. Once fully charged, the Alpride claims the charge is good for 3 months when stored in the off position.

Don't Hesitate!
Another benefit to an easily rechargeable system is that it hopefully inspires the wearer to pull the trigger without hesitation in the case of even a small avalanche. A recent study compiling avalanche incidents involving skiers, snowmobilers, and snowboarders found that over 20 percent of backcountry travelers caught while wearing an airbag pack did not deploy their airbag. The most common reason given by those who survived was that they didn't think the avalanche was going to be big, so they opted not to pull it, or the trigger was still in the stowed position. Several of these incidents resulted in fatalities.


Black Diamond JetForce Pro System
avalanche airbag - the jetforce pro system from bd.
The JetForce Pro system from BD.
Credit: Black Diamond
The Black Diamond JetForce Pro is the second and significantly improved version of Black Diamond's JetForce. The most notable improvements are a reduced weight (between 1-1.5 lbs lighter), a base unit with various modular zip-on "booster" packs, reduced internal bulk, and the move toward a more traditional "burst zipper" which pops open less frequently. BD uses a lithium-ion battery-powered fan that will deploy up to four times on a single charge. While we don't think that most people need 4+ airbag deployments, we've seen people accidentally fire their airbag packs at trailheads, and the ability for multiple deployments could make the user less likely to hesitate to pull the trigger.

avalanche airbag - the jetforce is among the best and most well-thought-out airbag...
The JetForce is among the best and most well-thought-out airbag systems on the market. It boasts the largest volume airbag in our review, and it also has an auto-deflate mode which helps create a bigger air pocket if you're buried. Our review team thought this system was totally dialed!
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The JetForce packs have a 200L airbag, the largest we tested. Is bigger better? We have yet to see studies that show that 30-50 extra liters will keep you on top, but we also don't think it could hurt. The JetForce's fan pulls air from the atmosphere, an unlimited source to draw from. Once deployed, the bag deflates after three minutes. This helps increase the size of the victim's air pocket if buried, and hopefully increases their chance of survival (Mammut's system deflates as well). The JetForce system is easy to fly with since it does not use compressed air cartridges.

avalanche airbag - the bd jetforce system being charged (left) and trigger with...
The BD JetForce system being charged (left) and trigger with operational display lights (right).
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The JetForce runs self-diagnostics every time you turn it on, quickly running 100 percent in reverse to make sure the pack is functioning. At the end of the diagnostics, a green light flashes and will continue to pulse throughout the day to confirm that the pack is operating as it should. Once the trigger is pulled, the fan runs at 100 percent for nine seconds, providing air to inflate the airbag even when pressured by moving snow during an avalanche.

Once nine seconds have passed, the fan cycles between running at 50 percent and 100 percent to keep the bag inflated for the next minute. Black Diamond states that these pulses of air will keep the airbag inflated even with a six-inch gash. At minutes two and three, the fan continues to alternate between running and pausing to keep the airbag inflated, but at a lower volume than during the first minute. This is to meet the CE specification requiring airbags to stay inflated for three minutes and to help safeguard the wearer from a secondary avalanche. The user can press a button at any time to stop the process or pull the trigger again to fire it from the beginning. (It is worth noting that while the Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26 has the JetForce name it actually uses the Alpride E1 system.)

avalanche airbag - the alpride airbag system 2.0 is powered by two factory-sealed...
The Alpride Airbag System 2.0 is powered by two factory-sealed, non-refillable canisters that must be replaced after each use.
Credit: Alpride
Alpride's Airbag System 2.0

Alpride's 2.0 system, not to be confused with their E1 supercapacitor system, uses two pre-sealed, single-use canisters. The canisters cannot be refilled once deployed; you must purchase a new set. One cartridge contains argon, and the other is carbon dioxide. The Black Diamond JetForce UL employs this system.

avalanche airbag - a look at mammut&#039;s removable airbag system 3.0 when deployed.
A look at Mammut's Removable Airbag System 3.0 when deployed.
Credit: Mammut
Mammut's Removable Airbag System (RAS)

Mammut's RAS is a solid design that is the least expensive modular airbag system. The RAS is similar in size, shape, volume, and location to airbags offered from other companies like Backcountry Access. Advantages of the RAS system are price, easier travel and more refilling options than some other systems, and an array of similar packs that makes swapping units possible.

Backcountry Access Float System

Many Backcountry Access packs (and their parent company K2) use the Float 2.0 airbag system. This system is about 30% smaller and around 15% lighter BCA's previous system, the Float 1.0. Its design is built around a smaller canister that fits inside the same compartment as the airbag, saving both valuable pack space and requiring less overall tubing than the previous model.

The 2.0 system used in BCA&#039;s packs is lighter and smaller than the...
The 2.0 system used in BCA's packs is lighter and smaller than the previous 1.0 system. However, its greatest advantage is that the canister now fits in the same compartment as the airbag itself, saving valuable pack space.


BCA was able to use a smaller-sized canister by increasing the pressure/capacity of the new one from around 2500-2700 PSI to around 2800-3000 PSI coupled with a redesigned the venturi system itself that both further reduced weight and improved efficiency.

avalanche airbag - comparing the older 1.0 canister on the left to the smaller and...
Comparing the older 1.0 canister on the left to the smaller and lighter 2.0 canister on the right.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The Float system airbag uses the same size (150L) and shape airbag/balloon as the Mammut RAS. The airbag system used in the BCA Float packs is removable and interchangeable, but you can't buy their packs without the airbag system included, so it can get expensive if you want to have more than one pack for different applications.

avalanche airbag - the bca float system uses compressed air and its 150 balloon is the...
The BCA Float System uses compressed air and its 150 balloon is the most common size and shape. Here, Tino Villanueva slays the goods in a BCA Float 32 in the Crystal Backcountry, WA.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

This Float system only features one bag, but it took us a lot of effort to puncture the bag with an ice axe. Even then, the bag inflated just fine and stayed inflated for enough time. In the event of an avalanche, the wearer would probably come to a rest before the bag began to deflate. BCA claims their basic shape allows them to produce and sell their airbag packs for less, thus increasing the number of people who buy them and hopefully saving more lives.

avalanche airbag - the bca float 32&#039;s basic but extremely functional airbag design does...
The BCA Float 32's basic but extremely functional airbag design does what it's designed to do: make it more likely that in the event of an avalanche, its wearer will end up on top.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Triggers


Some packs have an interchangeable trigger, and some are fixed on the left shoulder. Most right-handed skiers and snowboarders prefer to use their right hand to pull on their left shoulder strap. Snowmobilers, who represent at least half of the market for airbag packs, usually prefer to pull with their left hand so they can keep their right hand on the throttle.

avalanche airbag - if you&#039;re a lefty or a snowmobiler, you might want to seek out a...
If you're a lefty or a snowmobiler, you might want to seek out a pack with a trigger that can be moved to the right shoulder.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Trigger location is worth considering when comparing airbag packs. With the Mammut RAS series of packs, the trigger is fixed on the left shoulder strap and thus geared towards the right-handed folks. If you are left-handed, you shouldn't consider this a deal breaker, but you should likely practice more to make sure you can quickly pull the trigger with your non-dominant hand. The ability to switch sides is an option for most models currently on the market, except Mammut.

avalanche airbag - for most right-handed folks, wearing the trigger on the left...
For most right-handed folks, wearing the trigger on the left shoulder is ideal as it lets you pull the trigger with your dominant hand. The trigger of the BCA Float pack shown here is modular.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

A lot of companies make a big deal about their trigger system. Our testers concluded that of all the things that should be compared when considering avalanche airbag systems, the trigger mechanism was least significant because the reliability difference was small. Nearly all compressed air canisters use a basic mechanism to release the compressed air. When you pull the trigger, it pulls a cable that directly releases the air from the canister.

avalanche airbag - we really appreciated models that you could switch the trigger to...
We really appreciated models that you could switch the trigger to the right or left shoulder strap which is the case on the Osprey Soelden 32 Pro as well as other models that feature the Alpride E1 system. Here Scott Orr enjoys his airbag in the Selkirk's near the Sunrise Lodge Golden BC.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Refilling


This is where the Alpride E1 models and the Black Diamond JetForce battery-powered fan pack have an advantage. While they are more expensive upfront, there are no additional costs involved so long as you have a place to plug them in. With that said, it is generally not a big deal to find a location to refill compressed air.

avalanche airbag - often scuba and paintball shops are the least expensive and most...
Often scuba and paintball shops are the least expensive and most readily available places to refill your airbag canister. Here an Underwater Sports employee refills a BCA compressed air canister in North Seattle.
Credit: Ian Nicholson
The Alpride 2.0 system used in the BD JetForce UL requires that you purchase new cartridges once you deploy the airbag, as they are not refillable. The models using compressed air (like BCA and Mammut) all use a standard fitting that can be refilled cheaply at most scuba shops, paintball shops, some fire stations, outdoor gear stores, or anywhere else people use and deal with high-pressure compressed air. Also, if you or a buddy owns a scuba tank or has a glass-blowing setup, you can buy an adapter from BCA or Mammut and refill your own canisters.

If you are traveling to remote locations where there is a low chance of finding somewhere to refill your canisters, you can buy a Benjamin High Pressure Hand Pump and refill your canister anywhere, by hand, with around 20-30 minutes of effort.

Air Transportation


This will generally only be a consideration for skiers and snowboarders who frequently travel to ski or snowboard. Be realistic about how much you will travel. It might not be worth the hassle or the extra $400-$500 for a battery-powered fan pack if you only tend to tour in your local mountains every now and then.

Ease of travel is another area where the Alpride E1 and Black Diamond's JetForce Pro electric fan systems shine. There are some restrictions on flying with their lithium-ion battery, but so long as you disconnect the battery and consider bringing some supporting paperwork describing what you are doing with such a large battery. Currently, TSA requires you to fly with the battery discharged and disconnected, so there is no chance of an accidental deployment.

avalanche airbag - ifmga mountain guide tino villanueva descends pineapple basin with a...
IFMGA Mountain Guide Tino Villanueva descends Pineapple Basin with a BCA Float 32.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

With compressed air cylinders, you can fly domestically with an empty canister as long as it's in your checked baggage. For international trips, it's okay to fly with a full canister in your checked bag. We recommend keeping the box that your canister comes in. Then, when you fly, put the canister back in its box. This clearly defines what your canister is and helps ensure TSA doesn't take your canister away. We always go one extra step and put a note on ours when flying domestically, saying it's empty and that it's for an avalanche pack. We have flown with full canisters to Europe several times and have never had an issue, but domestic travel is more of a hassle. For domestic flights, also consider removing the head of the canister so that there's absolutely no question that it's empty.

There are almost always places to refill compressed air, even in fairly remote corners of the world, and it's typically around $10-20.

avalanche airbag - a note attached to the box can potentially help tsa identify what...
A note attached to the box can potentially help TSA identify what your canisters are, and perhaps deter them from trying to confiscate it. Some Float owners remove the cap so that TSA can see inside and confirm that it's empty.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

We didn't test any nitrogen canister airbags in this review, but note that TSA/FAA does not allow compressed nitrogen canisters to be checked in your bags, even if they are empty. Because locations that will swap/refill ABS nitrogen canisters are harder to find, if there isn't an option at your destination, there is only one choice: pay a hazardous material fee of $25-70 to ship your canister ahead of time. The one bright side: You can ship the canister full.

avalanche airbag - weight is an important factor when comparing avalanche bags. our...
Weight is an important factor when comparing avalanche bags. Our expert testers were impressed by the Black Diamond JetForce UL which is by far the lightest, most fully functional airbag pack we tested which proved perfect for huge days or folks concerned about saving as much weight while still having as functional an airbag as possible.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Weight


The two lightest airbags on the market are the Mammut Ultralight Removable 3.0 and the Black Diamond JetForce UL, which are each around 4.4 lbs for the whole setup. These packs are built to be ultralight, but as a trade-off, they lack some comfort features and organizational pockets featured on the heavier packs.

avalanche airbag - a look at the simple design of the ultralight removable 3.0. it&#039;s...
A look at the simple design of the Ultralight Removable 3.0. It's not very user-friendly from a backcountry utility standpoint, but its 4.4 lb weight is hard to argue with on the up track.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The 20L size of the Mammut Ultralight is barely large enough for a half-day tour, and even then it still takes a fair amount of effort to fit everything. While hardly versatile, if low weight is what you're after, this pack should be on your radar — but hopefully, it's not the only airbag pack you own.

The JetForce UL tips the scales at an impressive 4.4 lbs.
The JetForce UL tips the scales at an impressive 4.4 lbs.
The BD JetForce UL is one of the lightest packs on the market.
The BD JetForce UL is one of the lightest packs on the market.

The Black Diamond JetForce UL is far more versatile as it has a 26L volume and offers some extras like an internal mesh pocket for small items. The JetForce UL uses Alpride's 2.0 cartridge system, which is currently the lightest airbag system. However, some sacrifices are made to keep its weight down, like a thin webbing waist belt, no real back support (besides what is provided by the airbag system), and an avy tools pocket that is difficult to access and has a tendency to collapse on the main compartment. We think this model is the best option for those looking for the absolute lightest but still-functional pack.


The lightest fully-featured model we tested is the Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26L (5 lbs 7 oz). Though the BD JetForce UL also claims a 26L volume, it feels a lot less spacious than the JetForce Tour 26L. The Tour 26 uses Alpride's supercapacitor system and has a large snow safety tools pocket.

On the heavier side is the BCA Float 42 at 7.1 lbs, but this is the pack you want if you're going out for multi-day trips, thanks to its 42L capacity, great comfort, and multiple organizational features.

avalanche airbag - a solid and reliable helmet carry system is a small but essential...
A solid and reliable helmet carry system is a small but essential feature on most airbag packs.
Credit: Susie Glass

Features


We compared additional features and perks that made a pack easier to use but weren't necessarily the typical essentials of a backcountry pack (for the essentials, see our Backcountry Utility category above). We gave higher scores to packs with easy-to-use and stable helmet attachments and features like hip pockets, which are nice for phones, Gu, or sunblock.


We liked packs with additional soft, non-scratching fleece-lined goggle pockets, which help to protect our eyewear while still keeping it accessible. Some packs we tested didn't come with built-in helmet holsters/slings, but this shouldn't be a deal-breaker as there are a number of good after-market models that are designed to attach to nearly all of the brands of packs in our review.

avalanche airbag - we loved the protective fleece-lined goggle pocket on the mammut pro...
We loved the protective fleece-lined goggle pocket on the Mammut Pro X Women's pack. It was easy to access even when the pack was full.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

No other models could tour the level of easy-to-use features down to the finest detail as the Backcountry Access Float 42 2.0. This model has the greatest number of pockets and extra organizational features that assist you on a day out in the backcountry.

avalanche airbag - we love the plethora of pockets offered on the float 42, especially...
We love the plethora of pockets offered on the Float 42, especially the two large internal zippered mesh pockets.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Comparing Modular Airbag Systems


One cool feature of some packs is the ability to buy one system to use across several packs. Owning two or more packs will no doubt be costly but these modular systems can save money if you need the versatility of different packs for your ski tours.

Mammut currently offers several models for their two systems (the two systems, the RAS and PAS are not interchangeable). Mammut offers packs in the 15-45L range, including some very lightweight options. Their base unit airbag packs don't include a cartridge, which will run you another couple hundred per pack.

BD's JetForce Pro model is part of a modular system. Once you buy one of the packs with the airbag system, you can purchase three different "Booster" packs that zip on to broaden your quiver. The JetForce Pro packs were the most expensive in our review, but the Boosters are quite affordable. This means one pack is very expensive, but turning it into two or three is quite reasonable.

avalanche airbag - here tester ian nicholson is wearing the bca float pack while...
Here tester Ian Nicholson is wearing the BCA Float pack while performing a hand-shear in the Stevens Pass Backcountry
Credit: Ryan O'Connell

The Backcountry Access Float 2.0 airbag systems are removable and interchangeable. They don't sell any packs without the airbag system, but you can purchase two different packs and one cartridge for around the same price as some of the spendier battery-powered fan packs.

avalanche airbag - eric dalzell and ryan o&#039;connell descend while testing airbag packs...
Eric Dalzell and Ryan O'Connell descend while testing airbag packs and helping with snow pack stability assessment for Tailgate Alaska: A World Freeride Festival.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Downhill Performance


avalanche airbag - performance on the down is important. ian nicholson testing airbag...
Performance on the down is important. Ian Nicholson testing airbag packs for this review in the Duffy Lakes Region of British Columbia.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

This scoring metric rates how each pack felt and moved with us while skiing and snowboarding on the descent. We gave higher scores to packs we hardly realized we were wearing. We didn't have a runaway winner, and a fairly common and understandable theme was many of the best riding packs on the downhill were also the smallest.


Osprey's Soelden Pro pack performed great on the downhill and the best among the full-sized packs. No packs scored truly awful here, but some were notably flappier than others. Mammut's Ultralight Removable pack also fared well on the down, but this is to be expected since it's much smaller than the Soelden.

Generally speaking, smaller volume packs performed better than...
Generally speaking, smaller volume packs performed better than larger ones.
The performance on the down metric rated how each pack felt and...
The performance on the down metric rated how each pack felt and moved with its user while skiing and snowboarding on the descent. We gave higher scores to packs that made us feel like we were hardly wearing them. Photo: Dallas Glass gets ready to step through the wardrobe into Gnar'nia.

Comfort


For comfort, we compared how well each pack carried on the way up, as well as how comfortable and articulated the back panel and shoulder straps were. We gave higher scores to packs that used higher-quality material on the inside of their shoulder straps.


Osprey is first and foremost a backpack company, so it's no surprise that they got the comfort aspect of their airbag pack dialed with the Osprey Soelden Pro. The Mammut Pro X Removable 35L - Women's is also a top scorer here. Each of these models featured nicely articulated shoulder straps and cozy but supportive padding that our review team felt stood out compared to other models.

avalanche airbag - nicely articulated and well-padded shoulder straps, like the ones...
Nicely articulated and well-padded shoulder straps, like the ones shown here on the Osprey Soelden Pro, play a big role in overall comfort.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

While skiing with heavier loads for hut-to-hut trips, we loved the Backcountry Access Float 42 2.0 and the Black Diamond JetForce Pro, with their sturdy frames and comfortable shoulder straps.

avalanche airbag - we compared each pack&#039;s comfort when carrying loads of day-touring...
We compared each pack's comfort when carrying loads of day-touring equipment. For the bigger packs, we compared multi-day hut loads. Here Pete Keane drops in while leading an Ortler tour for the Northwest Mountain School in the Italian Alps.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Sizing and Fit

Most medium and taller testers like the BCA Float 32 and Float 42. For users with shorter torsos, our favorite was the Mammut Pro X 35 - Women's. All the Black Diamond models are available in two torso lengths, allowing users to get a better fit overall.

avalanche airbag - black diamond makes most of their airbag packs in two frame sizes to...
Black Diamond makes most of their airbag packs in two frame sizes to help fit a wider range of users.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Conclusion


Knowing what avalanche airbag to purchase depends on your specific backcountry needs. This review is intended to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the options available today, and we hope we've helped outline the right pack for you. Be safe out there!

avalanche airbag - we hope our review helped you make a more informed decision on which...
We hope our review helped you make a more informed decision on which airbag pack is best for you.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Ian Nicholson


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